Topsoil bag

Cold Spring, Minn. — As co-owner of a compost venture, Brad Matuska knows how to make good dirt. Now he is bagging up the profits.

Matuska and partner Mathias Miller own Mississippi Topsoils, which has begun packing its Soil Essentials compost in handy one-cubic-foot bags. Distributed by Specialty Seeds, Inc. of Albany, Minn., the bags are available in garden centers throughout the state.

Mississippi Topsoils, now in its third season, uses wood chips, leaves, grass and dried poultry processing solids to produce Soil Essentials Premium Compost. The company’s high-tech compost facility is located next to Gold’n Plump’s poultry plant in Cold Spring.

Bagged compost is a new marketing direction for Soil Essentials, which was originally sold in bulk. “As we received customer feedback, we realized that application rates necessary to see significant results were pretty small because our compost is so rich,” Matuska says. “Plus the economics and the fact that consumers like the convenience of bags led us in that direction.”

Not made in your backyard

“We have a very involved process that gives us a consistent product,” Matuska says. “We focus on quality. … Our nutrient content far exceeds most comparable products out there.”

Soil Essentials ingredients are blended in 20-ton sealed bins. Computers control the entire process: mixing waste materials, maintaining optimum temperatures within the bins, recycling leachate and channeling exhaust to reduce odors. Each compost batch cooks about six months while heat and beneficial bacteria transform the wastes into clean, odorless humus.

Humus supports plant growth by improving soil texture and water retention and providing beneficial microorganisms. It also provides essential nutrients — nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous — as well as micronutrients such as calcium and magnesium.

Mississippi Topsoils has a capacity of about 50,000 bags a year, Matuska says. Since production costs are relatively high, it is necessary to market the compost at a premium. But that is all part of the plan.

“We’re following a marketing plan that was set up with assistance from AURI,” Matuska says. “Because of the cost of our process it makes sense that (the compost) needs to command a higher price.”

Quality’s in the bag

AURI project development director Michael Sparby says more work is being done with Mississippi Topsoils, including efforts to identify other ingredients to create even better compost. “We’re continuing to enhance an already good product.”

Customer feedback has shown Matuska that if they continue to turn out a quality product, consumers will be willing to pay a little more.

“When people buy a $70 tree, spending $6 on a bag of premium compost that will really help it grow isn’t a bad deal,” he contends. “We found that price wasn’t a driving force. Quality was.” Erik Hansen attaches air pipes to 20-ton sealed compost bins.